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It’s Not Just About the Money

About a week ago I wrote about "why you should or, should not, go into business." Now, unfortunately, I am writing about someone I know who opened a business for one of those wrong reasons and it came back to haunt him.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine left his job in Corporate America. He took with him a fairly nice buyout and decided to start his own business. He had spent his entire career as a corporate executive and had no prior experience in the world of Small Business, not that I believe this is a big negative.

For the good part of a year he researched business opportunities; mostly franchise opportunities. A good move, since the support he would receive would help limit his inexperience in running a small business. He finally settled on a franchise in the fitness industry, and opened up a health club for overweight women. Another good choice, in that this is a growth industry and no country spends more on fitness and weight loss than the U.S.

About a year later, he is in the process of closing the doors. What happened?

According to my friend, his research was right. The weight loss and exercise segment of the 40 plus women’s market exploded right when he was opening. Then he added, "We just did not know that everyone else and their brother were also entering the market at the same time. That, and all the weight loss pills, Bowflex and exercise equipment ads, diet fads like Atkins and South Beach, Curves, Lady’s Workout Express… well, lets just say that the competition is a lot tougher than we imagined."

Now that sounds good, but a couple of things bothered me. 1) Sometimes the reason there’s a lot of competition and everybody is flocking to service the market, is that there’s a lot of customers. If I’m all alone in a market place, I’m going to start wondering if there’s a need. 2) I don’t know too many start-up small businesses who make it after a year, let alone 2 or 3. I know after my first five years in business, I was doing so well that I was dead broke and in debt. But here I am after almost 19 years in business. So why give up so easily?

I think the biggest mistake my friend made was choosing a business for its potential to make him money, rather than something he would really love doing.

Starting your own small business is a huge commitment. If you are not willing to lay everything on the line every day, your chances for success are slim. Add to that the fact that the last thing that ever comes is the money and you have to say to yourself; "If I don’t really, truly love what I do, what’s going to keep me going during those times when there’s no money coming in?"

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Time Saving Tips: Part II

In the last entry, I started a series on "Time Saving Tips." The purpose of this series is not to make you "Time Management Geniuses," but to help you save those small bits of time (maybe 10 to 15 minutes a day), that can either make you more productive, or relieve that extra stress in your life.

To review: the four tips I gave you were:

1. Break down major tasks into small ones.

2. Learn to say "No," easily and graciously.

3. Pay your bills online.

4. Block out a time each day for return calls and emails.

Here are four more tips guaranteed to save you time:

5. Periodically revise your short and long term goals. I suggest going over your short term goals (one to two years) every month. For your intermediate and long term goals (three years +) every three to six months. The reasons for this are pretty clear: 1) People change: over a period of time your priorities will change. What seemed important to you a few months ago might not be important now. Get rid of it. No need to waste your time chasing a goal you don’t want. 2) To make sure you haven’t veered off course from your plan and to make sure you’ve made the right amount of progress toward your goals.

6. Never do more than one major thing at any one moment, although you might shift back and forth among projects. It’s impossible to do more than one thing at a time. Try to concentrate on each task till it’s done. Naturally, when something comes up that has to be done immediately, you’ll have to switch; just don’t forget to go back to what you were doing.

7. Develop a system for tracking daily expenses. Keeping track of receipts and expense reports is probably one of the most hated tasks of the average business person. However, I think I’ve found an easy, low-tech way of doing it. I use an envelope system. Just take a standard #10 envelope and mark it for each ten day period (i.e. April 1 – 10 2005; April 11 – 20, 2005, etc.). Whenever you get a receipt stick it in the appropriate envelope. Whenever you finally get around to doing the report, take the receipts out of the envelope and recreate your spending during that time period.

8. Promise less, deliver more. By sticking to this credo, you’ll not only never disappoint people; you’ll constantly make them happy and save yourself a lot of stress and aggravation. The tendency of most people is to promise more and deliver less. They’re more concerned with telling people what they think they want to hear. They put undue pressure on themselves to do the impossible and end up hurting themselves, losing customers and wasting time trying to do things that cant’ be done.

When a client, or anyone for that matter, asks what you can do for them, they’re not looking for the impossible; they’re mostly looking for the truth: and if they get it, they’ll be more than happy.

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Time Saving Tips: Part I

Within the last 30 years we’ve seen the demographic explosion of two paycheck households and single parent households. This has created a society where "Time" has become one of the scarcest commodities. We are stressed out at work and stressed out at home.

Sometimes the difference between stress-free and what feels like a total meltdown, could be a matter of finding just an extra five or ten minutes a day.

Over the next few days, I’m going to pass on some tips to you that will help you relieve some of the stress in your life and find that extra five or ten minutes a day.

1. Break down major tasks into small ones so: a) The work is more manageable; b) You can reward yourself as you complete each small step; c) You can keep better track of your progress; and d) You can avoid trying to do too much or, at the last minute.

Each of us has so many tasks we must do, yet hate doing; i.e. paperwork. What we end up doing is putting it off till we’re buried in it. Why not start slow and devote 15 minutes a day to the distasteful tasks, but: do it every day and STOP after 15 minutes. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll accomplish.

2. Learn to say "No" easily and graciously. Other people are always ready, willing and able to put unreasonable demands on your time; especially if it doesn’t inconvenience them. The ability to say "No," to the most egregious demands is one of the greatest time savers in the world.

3. Pay your bills online. This not only saves you time, but also saves you money. 1) You no longer have to write checks. This not only saves time, but saves you money on check reorders. 2) You never have to handle a bill more than once: Now when a bill comes in, if you don’t want to pay it immediately, you have to file it somewhere and remember to pay it later in order to avoid late fees. With online bill paying, you touch the bill once, schedule the payment on your computer (I usually do it right before the due date) and forget it. This also enables you to manage cash flow more effectively. 3) No more stamps: A savings of 37 cents every time you pay that bill online.

4. Block out a time each day for return calls and emails. Rather than return your phone calls and emails as you get them, block out some time near the end of each day and return them all at once. How does this save time? Simple: you no longer have to break the momentum of what you’re doing to return calls. The starting of a task or project, stopping; and then starting again, results in a lot of lost time.

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Rebalancing Your Busy Life: Part II

Yesterday I outlined some ideas to help you understand where your time is going and how you can find those extra two to three hours a week you thought you would never get back.

This week with an excerpt from the book, "Beyond Juggling: Rebalancing Your Busy Life," (Berrett Koehler, $16.95, available at www.beyondjuggling.com), we will look at 5 strategies to find more time for the people and things you love.

1. Alternating. This involves immersing yourself completely in work for a specified period, and then not working at all for a while – rather like a freelance writer. If arranging a sabbatical isn’t realistic, at least be sure to go on regular vacations. Too many people neglect to take these vital breaks and ultimately become less productive.

2. Outsourcing. Identify activities you’re willing to let someone else take over. For example, hire a housecleaning service instead of doing it all yourself. Rather than do taxes yourself next April, hire an accountant. At work, try to find a few tasks you’ve been tackling yourself that really could be delegated – it could gain you a few extra hours each week.

3. Bundling. This tactic can help you get more mileage out of the same number of hours. Wish you had more time to hang out with your friends? Never get the chance to go to the gym enough? You can fit both friendship and exercise into your schedule by power-walking with a friend. Sick of living on takeout? Get together with a couple of pals on Sunday evenings and cook meals that can be stashed in the freezer for the coming week.

4. Techflexing. As the name suggests, this strategy allows you to make use of technology, including a home office, to work more flexible hours (if you have the kind of job that permits it). If a pager or a broadband connection would make it easier for you to take a few hours off in the middle of a workday on occasion, go ahead and make the investment (or better yet, see if your employer will reimburse you.)

5. Simplifying. Is earning more and owning more always better? Not necessarily – especially when you can’t find time for the things you really value. Free yourself up by figuring out what you can live without. "You may make small sacrifices, such as canceling magazine subscriptions," the authors suggest. Or you could make a bigger sacrifice, such as taking a voluntary pay cut in exchange for reducing your hours.

None of these strategies is a one-size-fits-all solution. For many people, borrowing a little bit from all five seems to work best. Only you can decide what’s the best work-life strategy for you.

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Rebalancing Your Busy Life: Part I

With more and more people working (84% of all 2 parent households are also 2 paycheck households), the stress of managing your career, having a family life, seeing friends now and then and actually finding an hour or two for yourself, has people feeling overwhelmed.

In their book, "Beyond Juggling: Rebalancing Your Busy Life," (Berrett Koehler, $16.95, available at www.beyondjuggling.com), authors Kurt Sandholtz, Brooklyn Derr, Kathy Buckner and Dawn Carlson describe ways to find more time for the people and things you love, including yourself.

As I’ve often stated in my newsletter and on my radio show, it isn’t necessary to radically alter your life. Just by making small changes, implemented on a regular basis, you’ll be able to find those little bits of time (maybe one to two hours a week) that can make a huge difference.

Where do you start? Sandholtz recommends keeping a detailed diary for a couple of days, otherwise known as a time log, just to see where your time is really going. Then look at it and ask yourself which activities you could cut out or delegate to someone else.

Another benefit of the time log is: you can now decide which area of your life – work, family, friendships, or self-care, most sorely needs more attention than it’s getting.

"From dads, we most often hear it’s time with the kids that’s lacking," says Sandholtz. "From women, it’s usually self-care; an hour or two here or there to exercise, get a facial, read, or just think.

Once you have a clear idea of what you’re spending your time on now, and where you want to redirect some of that time, you can choose a tactic that will help you get there.

Tomorrow we’ll go over 5 practical strategies that can help you devote more time to the pursuits you truly value.